Special Events and Party Planning

Image of people having a party using the party pack


Whether you’re planning a large public event, a business meeting or an intimate dinner party - with a bit of planning you can make it a Zero Waste function.  

This page gives you the information and tools you need to have a Zero Waste event.

Zero Waste Party Pack

Borrow a Free Party Pack for Your Next Event

Zero Waste Party Pack in use with table settings and food


Zero Waste Party Packs are a set of reusable dishware, utensils, and napkins you can borrow to host a great indoor or outdoor party. They are FREE and available for residents to borrow.



Contact a Zero Waste Block Leader To Borrow A Party Pack

You can borrow a party pack from a Zero Waste Block Leader near you. Most block leaders have party packs available for you to borrow. If they don't, they'll get you in touch with a block leader who does.  Find the Zero Waste Block Leader near you. 

Zero Waste Party Pack Contents

Each party pack includes 24 place settings. Dishware is in 3 colors - green, red, and blue.  

Dishware sets in 3 colors plus utensils and napkins

Best Practices - To Help You Host A Zero Waste Event

Check out our Best Practices Guide (PDF, 219KB)with set up tips to help you have a Zero Waste event.

Party Pack bins
Make sure party attendees know where to return their items.

Special Events

Holding an event takes a lot of planning. Zero Waste considerations should be integrated into the earliest stages of event planning in order to create a Zero Waste event.

The City of Palo Alto requires that all special events to practice waste reduction, reuse, recycling, and composting measures. Our Zero Waste Event Guidelines page has information, tools and resources to help event organizers plan a Zero Waste event and comply with the City’s requirements.

Visit the Zero Waste Event Guidelines page.


Holidays and Parties

Tips for less wasteful, but every bit as festive celebrations.

Catering in?

  • Choose a caterer who will supply reusable dishes and napkins. Ask the caterer to provide reusable trays that can be returned or have food presented on your own trays or dishes.
  • Ask your caterer to make their dishes using local and organic items.


Doing it yourself?

  • Use your own dishes, cloth napkins and utensils instead of disposables. You can also borrow a Zero Waste Party Pack or check "Rental Service Stores" in the Yellow Pages or by searching online for a place to rent dishes, napkins, tablecloths and flatware. Many rental agencies deliver. You may even return rinsed dishes and soiled napkins so you don’t have to do the dreaded holiday wash-up.
  • Skip utensils and plates entirely and serve finger food. Purchase enough cloth napkins for the party or rent them from a linen service. Once bought, napkins will be useful for years.


Don't forget to recycle and compost!

Make recycling and composting convenient (set recycling and composting containers next to garbage containers) and be sure your family and friends know where the containers are and what is accepted in each. Signs are available for you to download or you can create your own.


Signs for Downloading


Business Lunches, Meetings and Conferences

Break Out of the Box Lunch As Usual

Making environmental considerations part of planning for business events can make a significant difference in the amount of food, paper and packaging waste generated.

There are many aspects to consider in various types of business events. If your business has an environmental services officer, a "green team," or other designated group which plans for environmental improvements, the checklist is a great tool to let everyone know how well your company is doing. You can then target the changes you want to make in specific areas of event planning as they apply to your business.

Resources that may help:
EPA Greening Your Meetings Guide
California Resource Recovery Association Zero Waste Guidelines used to plan its 2006 Conference(PDF, 15KB)

Foodware Options

Reusable, Recyclable or Compostable? Information on Your Options

Reusable foodware is the best option. Using reusables conserves natural resources, prevents waste and litter in our watersheds and oceans, and can save your business money

  • Residents can borrow a Zero Waste Party Pack.
  • Organizations can stock their lunch and break rooms with reusable and washable dishes, cups, and silverware.
  • With a little planning, special events can be serviced with reusable foodware as well.


If reusable products are not an option, consider recyclable or compostable service ware instead. While not as environmentally friendly, because recyclable and compostable dishes, cups and cutlery are still meant to be used once and then disposed, recycling or composting them does reduce their impact on our environment. Consider products that are:

Effective April 22, 2010, Palo Alto has an ordinance that restricts food vendors from providing prepared food in disposable food service containers made from expanded polystyrene or non-recyclable plastic. Read the fact sheet(PDF, 429KB) on the ordinance.

Effective January 1, 2020, plastic straws, utensils, stirrers, and other small plastic items are no longer allowed in Palo Alto. Please see our Disposable Foodware Ordinance page for more information.